Learn more about the fight against the Rochester BID at www.nobidroc.com
The Rochester Downtown Development Corporation (RDDC) attempted to create a BID in Rochester in 2014. It was rejected by City leaders and small businesses. Recently, RDDC again started to quietly lobby for the creation of their BID. Despite considerable pushback including a petition, survey and public outcry, City Council approved RDDC’s desire to start planning a BID.
If they are successful, the RDDC will expand into the Rochester Downtown Partnership (RDP). The RDP will be able to tax every property in the district and spend those funds in their own interests, with little oversight or recourse from the community. BIDs are extremely difficult to get rid of once in place. Progressive communities throughout the US are trying to claw back power from BIDs and undo the harm they’ve caused. In Rochester, activists, small business owners, community groups, and artists are joining together to demand transparency and educate our community.
Join us for a virtual panel discussion about the fallout of BIDs across the country, featuring experts and activists from three cities: Saturday, February 18th 12pm EST / 9am PST
But first.. What’s going on with the proposed BID in Rochester?
A Business Improvement District (or “BID”) is a designated area of a community that has a board. This board is granted powers by City Council. These powers were entrusted to City Council by you, the voter. The Rochester Downtown Development Corporation (RDDC) has access to nearly $5,000,000 in public and private funding to “Show what a BID can do!” and get City Council to vote for its creation. The RDDC hid from the press and focused the public and Council’s attention on artwashed projects and events to distract the community from learning that:
- A BID is able to levy additional taxes (up to 20% more) on properties within its boundaries, collected on top of other city property taxes.
- The BID Board, made of a majority of property owners, gets to decide how and where to use those public funds for additional services in public spaces, like private security “ambassadors”, sanitation, infrastructure “improvements”, marketing, economic development, and events.
Our community is still working through the trauma caused by racist housing policies and systematic disinvestment. Make no mistake, this is 21st century redlining. There is room for thoughtful development without displacement, but this BID is inherently undemocratic and is a dangerous power grab. Just because it is codified into New York State law doesn’t make it right. We cannot allow this Business Improvement District to pass, we need to nip this BID in the bud!
RDDC uses art-washing to push forward the BID
The arts community has been sounding the alarm since May of 2022, when the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation put out a call for artists to create window displays that must be “positive in nature.” These displays would “enhance vibrancy” and allow RDDC to demonstrate the potential improvements that a “Business Improvement District” could bring to downtown Rochester.
Roc Arts United City Committee and an extended coalition of working artists strongly opposes the RDDC’s attempt to co-opt the arts to push this anti-democratic power grab by downtown property owners.
Putting up positive window decorations to “show what the BID can do” is a cynical attempt to distract from what a Business Improvement District would actually do: Hand decision making powers for downtown Rochester to a secretive entity that does not have to obey the Freedom of Information Act or pay any attention to city residents who are not wealthy landowners.
The arts community quietly objected when RDDC first came out with the window display artist call, suggesting instead that RDDC direct funding to arts groups that have expertise and experience in arts programming. RDDC leadership largely ignored and minimized the community’s pushback, went ahead with their plans, causing the art community to take their concerns public. The project has now been postponed twice, but RDDC still doesn’t seem to have gotten the full picture. Rather than respecting and supporting what is already happening in Rochester, they are now contorting themselves into a pseudo-arts council in order to justify the creation of a Business Improvement District. Based upon their willful ignorance of the wants and needs of the arts community, it is clear the RDDC should not be entrusted with arts funding or management.
Despite decades of disinvestment, Rochester is flush with artists and capable arts organizations. Their work is constantly highlighted in presentations and promotions by the City, area businesses and organizations. Imagine what our artists could create if we gave them the financial support and credit they deserve? Freedom of expression and creativity drive vitality. Directly funding to our arts community will give a far greater return on our investment. The arts community must be represented by an accountable and transparent organization of their own creation.
For these reasons, a letter opposing the BID, was delivered to Rochester City Council; cosigned by 50 artists, from 3 generations. The letter received an additional 800 signatures in support.
Rochester City Council Deliberates
On August 11, 2022, Rochester City Council held their first public hearing on the proposed downtown BID. However, much of the public was left out.
The cameras were pulled from the public forum, even though it was advertised as a meeting that could be streamed online. To make matters worse, a constituent was denied ADA access to an ASL interpreter. All blatant attempts to shut out public participation.
Constituents pleaded to reschedule the meeting. Despite this, Councilmember Michael Patterson, chair of the Neighborhood and Business Development Committee, pushed through and held the event anyway. In doing so he denied the community access to critical information.
All members of council were present at the hearing. They witnessed testimony from constituents documenting their need for more time, information, equity, and accountability. They had copies of this community survey information at their desks:
A selection of comments from the over 40 “Additional Comments” collected through 8/10/22:
- Our government should not be giving up its power to corporate interest groups. We need more transparency, not less. And should be giving more power to the citizens and not corporations.
- I’m very concerned about the privatization of city area/decision making.
- The BID would serve to concentrate wealth and power to business owners and not Rochester Residents. I do not think it is a safe path for moving forward for city residents.
- Stop these rich land monopolizers and get their slimy hands out of our pockets. They can afford to front their own money for any project they want to do.
- This ridiculous project is 21st century redlining. The new tax levy will price residents out of the area and the tax revenue will fund cops (private and city) to crack down on the marginalized. Disgusting all the way around.
- Fuck RDDC.
On Tuesday, August 16th, 2022 Rochester City Council pushed through legislation without community consent that sets the community well on the path towards the creation of a BID.
Learn more about the fight against the Rochester BID at www.nobidroc.com